Football in 2030: The state of the NFL

It’s 2013, and the National Football League rules the American sports sphere. But nothing last forever. One day, inevitably, a new sport will take over as America’s top pastime, leaving the NFL in the same wake that contains boxing and baseball.

That day won’t be today or tomorrow, but let’s fast-forward 5,873 days to Jan. 1, 2030. In collaboration with fellow Bloguin outlets Awful Announcing and Crystal Ball Run, This Given Sunday caught up with several of our favorite NFL media types in order to put together our very own football version of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Don’t hold us to it, but in 2030, the NFL might look something like this…

The panelists…

Mike Tunison, editor, Kissing Suzy Kolber
Pete Prisco, NFL columnist, CBS Sports
Khaled Elsayed, COO, Pro Football Focus
Joe Fortenbaugh, writer, National Football Post
Rivers McCown, writer, Football Outsiders
Sean Tomlinson, NFL blogger, theScore.com
Barry Petchesky, editor, Deadspin
Will Brinson, NFL writer, CBS Sports

The NFL has made no secret of the fact it is trying to lure fans to stadiums with the necessary bells and whistles. In 2030, how has the gameday stadium experience evolved? Has attendance been hindered by a continually improving home-viewing experience?

Mike Tunison: I think there be a trend toward building smaller stadiums (I know it's stadia, but that always sounds awkward). Obviously, 17 years isn't enough time to replace all existing venues and the trend may take some time to get going. There are some, like Lambeau, that just can't be replaced. The rate of advancement of home technology only makes attendance really appealing for diehards or those interested in the novelty of it. Since TV contracts are where the NFL makes the bulk of its revenue anyway, they can afford to cut ticket prices somewhat. Also, things like NFL Red Zone being featured on stadium big screens will become commonplace.

Rivers McCown: Income disparity continues to grow to the point where only some people can afford to attend live games, and pricing fans out is more of a factor than the home viewing experience.

Pete Prisco: The movement, the stadium feel, is right there in your seat with the stadium-experience sensors in your chairs. So the NFL has countered with devices at each seat for fans to watch the action in other stadiums, pick their own cameras for in-house replays and even live sideline stuff. You can go into the team huddle if you want. They've made it so you can play director from your seat. You can also chart your fantasy players, interact with fans across the country via NFL facechat and order your food right at your seat to avoid lines. The only thing missing is a device for relieving yourself at your seat.

Khaled Elsayed: You’ll never be able to replicate the game day experience whatever improvements are made. Attendance will be determined by market and the weaker markets will fluctuate based on success of team.

Barry Petchesky: The live gameday experience is nearly as comfortable as the home-viewing experience. Every seat contains personal touchscreen display, giving fans access to feeds for every NFL game, including the one they're attending. Lower-bowl seats are comfortably padded, most stadiums are domed and climate controlled, and partnerships with Papa Johns and Buffalo Wild Wings mean you can get gameday favorites delivered directly to your seat.

Sean Tomlinson: The bars within stadiums have become more extravagant, particularly the new Falcons stadium and its "100-yard bar" and fantasy football lounge. What we'll arrive at then is the ability to both be there and see the action from your seat, but then also the home feel is only a few steps away in the concourse.

Joe Fortenbaugh: 3D ran its course and 4D was hot for a minute, but the viewing experience changed when “X-ray TV” was introduced to the viewing public. We literally view the game through giant, high-definition x-ray machines that show us real-time bone breaks. It’s riveting stuff. Of course, we can only view the players as running skeletons, so nobody has any idea who the hell is who out there.

Will Brinson: The in-stadium experience made leaps and bounds over the past 15 years. After getting exponentially outpaced by the at-home experience, WIFI in stadiums is beefed up (read: actually usable), fans are able to watch substantially more highlights and attendance, which never really dipped except for teams that stink and play in crappy stadiums, is going strong.

Great. If I had to guess who would take this least seriously, I’d have gone with Fortenbaugh. Always entertaining. Also, thanks to McCown for getting super-serious (and a little depressing). OK, question two is sort of a follow-up. Which cities have built new stadiums or renovated current ones?

Petchesky: The Texans' stadium, built in 2002, is the league's oldest (if you don't count the Lambeau II renovation, which rendered it unrecognizable). Retractable domes are the norm, a must since the season was extended to 18 games and now stretches into late February. State and local governments continue to pay more than half of stadium construction costs, with the NFL commissioning its own questionable studies to "prove" that hosting a team provides an economic benefit to a city.

Fortenbaugh: Miami, Minnesota and Atlanta moved into new venues over the last ten years, but the big surprise is that Oakland and San Diego are still playing in the decrepit landfills they called home back in the 20th century.

Prisco: Miami, Jacksonville, Atlanta, San Diego and Buffalo all have new state-of-the-art facilities. London's team didn't need one, but they are building one and Toronto is doing the same to help lure an NFL team. The Los Angeles stadium is as good as any in the league. The LA Rams love it.

Tunison: The Redskins, or whatever they're called at the time, move back in D.C. FedEx Field is a dump. Fans hate the facility and the location. Jerry Richardson is likely able to hoodwink Charlotte into building him a new stadium. If the Raiders ever do manage to get a new stadium, it won't be for a while. The Saints eventually get a new venue, though I could be underestimating the sentimental value of the Superdome. Teams like the Jaguars and the Rams have to get by on renovations, if they haven't relocated altogether.

Tomlinson: The Ralph in Buffalo will be long gone. Sun Life or Land Shark or Pro Player or Joe Robbie or whatever they're calling it now in Miami will have reached the end of its useful life too.

McCown: Los Angeles has claimed the Bills, who were allowed to be swept up after Ralph Wilson's untimely demise in 2019. The Chargers relocated to Austin in 2023 following a large population influx and a ton of new money from successful internet companies. The new NFL threat for expansion or relocation continues to be London, which lobbies harder every year for a team. Las Vegas is regarded as a threat by the media, but the NFL refuses to put a team there. Surprisingly, Jacksonville got a new stadium and was able to stay put after drafting Teddy Bridgewater turned the franchise's on-field fortunes around. The only remaining "old school" NFL Stadium continues to be Soldier Field, which has achieved a sort of old timey nostalgia that pairs well with Wrigley Field and is marketed as such. Tampa Bay has a new stadium somehow, but the Buccaneers are regarded as the team most likely to move.

Wow. I’m starting to wonder if McCown is some sort of oracle. Not only does he have a life expectancy prediction nailed down for Ralph Wilson, but he’s going out on a massive but sweet limb with that Austin team. OK, how many teams are there, and how many make the playoffs?

Tomlinson: I see the league following through and sticking with what was discussed at the owner's meetings earlier this fall, adding two teams.

Brinson: St. Louis and Tampa no longer have franchises but LA does and London will start next year.

Petchesky: There are now 36 teams, leading to unbalanced divisions, but the importance of maintaining historic rivalries trumped any talk of realignment. Sixteen teams make the playoffs, and playoff byes have been done away with.

Tunison: I wouldn't be surprised if there were 34 teams by then, with the addition of Los Angeles and London. London makes no sense but the league wants it too much for it not to happen. I think the playoffs will be expanded to eight teams per conference.

Elsayed: The NFL is keen to expand the structure so I can see it happening eventually. Two teams are my guess and the playoff becomes a 16-team tournament

Fortenbaugh: Thirty-four teams, split evenly between the two conferences. The playoffs have moved from a 12-team format to a 16-team format, with the four best records in each conference earning a first-round bye.

McCown: There are still 32 teams. 14 of them make the playoffs, in a compromise not unlike MLB's play-in game, where the two lowest-seeded Wild Card teams have a play-in game to get to Wild Card Weekend.

Brinson: Thirty-two teams, 8 make the playoffs from each conference.

What cities have lost NFL franchises, and where have they relocated to?

Tomlinson: Jacksonville doesn't feel like an original call or a particularly brave one, but it also feels inevitable. London is obviously a strong possibility for their relocation, though ironing out the small logistics needs to happen (would the London Jags really fly free agents across an ocean to work out on Tuesdays during the season?). But before London, the money and infrastructure in Los Angeles may be far too tempting.

Petchesky: St. Louis, Jacksonville, and San Diego have lost teams. Between relocation and expansion, Northern Virginia, Hartford, Conn., Austin, Texas, Mexico City, and Toronto all gained teams. Los Angeles now has two franchises.

Prisco: I see St. Louis to Los Angeles and that's it.

Fortenbaugh: There’s no longer a team in Jacksonville, but I wouldn’t say the city “lost” their franchise. The truth of the matter is that the good people of Jacksonville ran the Jaguars out of town. The Jags took up residence in London, where they have gone 8-8 every season since their arrival. Perfect at home, winless on the road. And we thought Seattle had the best home field advantage in the league.

Elsayed: None.

The controversy regarding the Washington Redskins name has really taken off this year. In 2030, what is the name of the Washington football team? If it's not the Redskins, when was it changed?

Fortenbaugh: Daniel Snyder still owns the team and has been fighting this battle for close to 25 years now. And the NFL has Snyder’s back, because they don’t want to lose money on all the Nike apparel that would go to waste due to a name/logo change. The good news is that the Native Americans have stopped caring. They re-took control of Manhattan five years ago.

McCown: It changed in 2018, as Dan Snyder finally runs out of legal recourses. In a compromise with team officials that are strongly married to the idea of sticking to the past, they are dubbed the "Marshalls," though no obvious reference to George is made in the logo.

Prisco: Washington Snyders. When he made the decision to do it, he went big in 2015.

Tunison: No idea what the name is in 2030, but it's not the Redskins. I wouldn't be shocked if the change happens this coming off-season. Barring that, I think the change happens in the next 2-3 years.

Elsayed: Redskins still.

Brinson: The Washington Bravehearts. RIP Redskins 2015

Tomlinson: Anything at all other than the current name is fine. I could look around my office desk and find more suitable names (Washington Celery Sticks? Washington Lukewarm Coffees?). A little bit more seriously, they'll either try to stay close to the theme of the current name, or go the former Washington Bullets route and roll with a name that's completely generic and harmless. 

Petchesky: The Redskins changed their name to the Pigskins, but only in 2023 after Dan Snyder was able to get a new stadium and sell the team at a 100 percent profit.

The biggest threat to the NFL in 2030 is ______________.

Brinson: People overhyping threats to the NFL.

Tunison: Talent drain from a generation of kids whose parents had a better idea of the dangers of football.

McCown: Themselves. Same as it always was.

Elsayed: Over expansion and diluting the product as a result

Prisco: A player dying on the field. If that happens, the barbaric cult will come calling and the politically correct will call for the game to end.

Tomlinson: Scorpions. Or wait, maybe that's 2070. I would hope that 16 years from now the league has curtailed its concussion problem, but even over that time period I don't see it ever really going away, mostly because of societal stubbornness towards change. There's still a strong segment of the football-watching public that fears for the state of the game, while the rest of us fear for safety, which at times has created two warring factions. If the league feels pressured to appease both sides — and it will — progress won't continue.

Fortenbaugh: Jai alai. That game blew up in 2014 when LeBron opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat and picked up a cesta basket.

The league has had just three commissioners since 1960. Pete Rozelle was in charge for 29 years and Paul Tagliabue ran things for 17. In 2030, is Roger Goodell still commissioner? That’d be just short of 25 years on the job.

McCown: Roger Goodell is replaced in 2029 by some other NFL lifer, after Goodell begins to grow too much of a backbone for the owners.

Elsayed: No, he deserves a rest.

Tomlinson: History says maybe but probably not, as Goodell will be 70, while Paul Tagliabue retired at 65, and Pete Rozelle bowed out at 63. But hey, maybe by 2030 the robots will have taken over anyway, and we won't need a commissioner at all. Or maybe Roger Goodell is a robot.

Tunison: Probably not. Not because the owners have turned on him, mind you. He's done well doing their bidding and doesn't strike me as interested in changing that. He's survived a few notable screwups already and there doesn't seem to be any movement toward unseating him. The only issue is age. By 2030, he'll be about the age Paul Tagliabue is now, which is to say, seven years older than Tagliabue was when he stepped down as commissioner.

Fortenbaugh: No. Goodell retired in 2022 after taking the game international, which came just two weeks after the former Commish handed out his 1,000,000th player suspension. He carries around the check James Harrison (he’s still playing!) mailed in for the fine in his wallet.

Brinson: Nah. He's 70 at this point and retired.

Let’s talk development, because that’s something that really hasn’t changed much historically. In 2030, is there a minor league system for players or a viable alternative to the NFL for players to develop and make a steady living? Or are college football and the CFL still the only real feeders?

Prisco: Yes. That came in 2016 when the NFL realized that college football cared only about college football and there were players who just wanted to play football and not go to school. They came up with the minor league to help keep the pipeline of players coming. There are 17 teams, one for every two teams in the NFL. They are non-NFL markets to help generate fan interest. Places like Tulsa and Omaha. ,

Petchesky: College football remains a free feeder system for the NFL, but around 2020 the power conferences broke away from the NCAA to form their own for-profit league. This league, loosely partnered with the NFL, allows college players to go "one-and-done."

Fortenbaugh: College football is still the best NFL talent pool in the world, but the game has changed. The NCAA is no longer calling the shots and the players are now being compensated for their efforts. In addition, college stars can enter the NFL after just one year of collegiate service, which has resulted in a significant decrease in “General Studies” graduates.

Tunison: I doubt it. They've tried twice with NFL Europe and the UFL and both were clear failures, but who knows? The NFL is stubborn enough to give it another shot.

Tomlinson: This is sorely lacking, as often those late-round picks or undrafted free agents could use some extra seasoning, and that's been missing since the demise of NFL Europe. If the European growth continues, there's perhaps faint hope that something similar to NFL Europe re-emerges. However, a true minor league that matches, say, the AHL where stick-puck men are groomed feels difficult. If players know the NFL is their final destiny and they've already been drafted or signed, they won't want to rip themselves apart and risk injury in a lesser league.

McCown: Yes. NFL Europe is revived in 2021 as a "test run for London" and becomes what the "winter leagues" are to MLB teams, as several prospects or players connected with the countries play a six-game season with a four-team playoff format that takes us from the end of the Super Bowl to the beginning of the draft. 

We’ve also heard time and again about an expanded or “enhanced” schedule, but no big changes have been made since the league expanded the playoffs in 1990, and the regular season has been 16 games for 35 years. In 2030, what does the NFL season/schedule look like in terms of preseason games, regular-season games, byes, playoffs, and non-Sunday games?

Prisco: It's 18 regular-season games with two preseason games, one special scrimmage for each team with another team and two byes per team. There are games on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday late in the season.

Tunison: Two preseason games, 18 regular season games, two byes per team. In each conference, there are four division winners and four Wild Cards. You'd either have to structure playoff byes where the top two division winners get two-week byes or the four Wild Card teams play opening weekend postseason games as non-elimination games to determine seeding in the next round.

Tomlinson: A cut down to two preseason games happens, and hopefully long before 2030. In the regular season, an 18-game schedule will be painful and wholly unnecessary, but again this is a league with many rich oil men who thoroughly enjoy money, so the opportunity to make more of it will be difficult to turn down. And here's to hoping Thursday games are eliminated by then, because we've seen enough of a sample size to know that football isn't a sport meant to be played on only a few days of rest.

Brinson: Football's played four days a week, 18 regular-season weeks a year. Two-bye format during the regular season.

McCown: There are three pre-season games, two bye weeks for each team, a 16-game schedule, and a relaunched All-Star game that takes place the week of the Wild Card play-in round. The league makes it known in no uncertain terms that teams with players who skip this game, yet appear in the playoffs, will be docked draft picks.

Petchesky: Preseason has been cut to two games. A 20-week regular season contains two bye weeks for every team. There is NFL football on every night of the week except for Tuesday. Yes, the Sunday slate is less busy, but the networks and league more than make up for it with strong ratings for every game, including Friday Night Football, generally agreed as the worst matchup of the week.

Fortenbaugh: The NFL decreased the number of preseason games to two, increased the number of regular season games to 18 and completely revamped the postseason schedule. With 34 franchises in the league, the playoffs now consist of 16 teams, with the four best records in each conference receiving a bye. And the 2014 outdoor Super Bowl in New York was such a huge success that you can now understand why Anchorage won the bid to host the 2039 championship. 

 

FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART I: THE STATE OF THE NCAA (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)

FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART II: COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)

FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART IV: HOW WILL THE GAME HAVE CHANGED? (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)

FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART V: THE EVOLUTION OF FOOTBALL COVERAGE (AWFUL ANNOUNCING)

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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